Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in 2015 in a process international observers characterized as generally free and fair. In 2013 the ruling Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 62 of 91 seats in the National Assembly. International and national observers declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life and use of excessive force by security forces; lack of due process; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest; executive influence on the judiciary; government restrictions on freedom of assembly; official corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although not enforced; and trafficking in persons.
The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity was a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
For example, in August and September, police shot and killed three protesters when demonstrations turned violent in the northern cities of Sokode and Mango.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were several reports, however, that government officials employed them. For example, Amnesty International, Action for the Abolition of Torture, and the Togolese League for Human Rights reported that agents of the Gendarmerie Research and Investigations Service beat detained political activists and subjected them to extreme sleep deprivation during September and October antigovernment protests.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease, and unhealthy food. In contrast with 2016, there were no reports prison officials withheld medical treatment from prisoners.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of October 1, there were 4,859 prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 156 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720. Men often guarded women. There were 45 juveniles held in the Brigade for Minors facility. Authorities placed the infants of female pretrial detainees and prisoners in the care of government-supported private nurseries. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
There were 25 prison deaths from various causes, including malaria. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent, prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.
Administration: There were no ombudsmen to assist in resolving the complaints of prisoners and detainees. Although authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, they rarely investigated complaints and, when they did, did not release any findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: Representatives of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by the Ministry of Justice visited prisons. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. Authorities generally denied requests by journalists to visit prisons. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement to obtain access. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had access through such agreements. The government holds an annual “Week of the Detainee” program, during which all prisons are open to the public, allowing visitors to witness the harsh, sometimes deplorable, realities of prison life.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The government did not always observe these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police and the gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The gendarmerie is also responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provided intelligence to police and gendarmes but did not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and security. The Ministry of Defense, which reports directly to the president, oversees the military.
Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police, and government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were often not effective. Corruption and inefficiency were endemic among police, and impunity was a problem. There were reports of police misusing arrest authority for personal gain. Abuses by security forces were subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigation and prosecution seldom occurred. The government generally neither investigated nor punished effectively those who committed abuses. There was training to increase respect for human rights.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
There were no reports of persons arbitrarily detained in secret without warrants. The law authorizes judges, senior police officials, prefects, and mayors to issue arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them, and police generally respected this right. The law provides for a suspect to be brought before a judicial officer within 72 hours of arrest. Although the law stipulates that special judges conduct a pretrial investigation to examine the adequacy of evidence and to decide on bail, authorities often held detainees without bail for lengthy periods regardless of a judge’s decision. Attorneys and family members have the right to see a detainee after 48 to 96 hours of detention, but authorities often delayed, and sometimes denied, access. All defendants have the right to an attorney, and the bar association sometimes provided attorneys for indigents charged with criminal offenses. The law gives indigent defendants the right to free legal representation, but the government provided only partial funding for implementation. No detainees were held incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: In August and September, security forces arbitrarily detained large groups of protesters in Lome and Sokode, who were released without charge.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventative detention totaled 3,222, or 51 percent of the total prison population. A shortage of judges and other qualified personnel, as well as official inaction, often resulted in pretrial detention for periods exceeding the time detainees would have served if tried and convicted, in many cases for more than six months.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law provide for the right of an arrested or detained person to challenge the lawfulness of detention, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds. An individual found to have been unlawfully detained may file for damages.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The executive branch exerted control over the judiciary, and judicial corruption was a problem. There was a widespread perception lawyers bribed judges to influence the outcome of cases. The court system remained overburdened and understaffed.
There were instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined. For example, on October 20, authorities charged, tried, and convicted 30 defendants only two days after their detention for participating in peaceful demonstrations. All except one of the defendants lacked legal counsel, and the lawyer for that defendant did not have adequate time to prepare a defense.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive influence on the judiciary limited this right. The judicial system employs both traditional law and the Napoleonic Code in trying criminal and civil cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They have a right to a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice or be provided with one at public expense if unable to pay, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trials were open to the public and juries were used. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which are extended to all defendants including women, members of indigenous groups, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
In rural areas the village chief or a council of elders has authority to try minor criminal and civil cases. Those who reject traditional authority may take their cases to the regular court system.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for human rights violations, but the judiciary did not respect such provisions, and most citizens were unaware of them.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. From August to October, there were multiple reports of security force members entering homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. For example, in October security force members and government-sponsored vigilantes attacked civilians in their houses in pro-opposition neighborhoods in the capital and other cities. These actions resulted in a number of persons fleeing the Mango and Sokode regions, with more than 500 fleeing across the border to Ghana.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nevertheless, authorities attempted to influence the press through illicit means. For example, on February 2, the president of the High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications (HAAC), Pitang Tchalla, confessed that in December 2016 he gave journalists envelopes containing cash as a “year-end gift from President Faure Gnassingbe to his relatives and friends” to encourage positive media coverage of the government.
Violence and Harassment: Local and international organizations reported violence against journalists. For example, on February 7, gendarmes arrested Kossi Robert Avotor, a reporter for the privately owned weekly newspaper L’Alternative while he was covering an antigovernment protest. He was beaten, handcuffed and held on the ground by gendarmes. Gendarmes erased his camera’s memory before returning it to him. Reporters without Borders and local media organizations condemned the attack.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.
Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, HAAC suspended monthly newspaper La Nouvelle for one month for violation of ethics rules for having published an article on political violence in the country that included photographs of victims and a list of perpetrators alleged to have committed political violence. HAAC stated that the content of the newspaper’s article included “defamation, threats to peace and social security, and violation of human dignity.”
Nongovernmental Impact: On August 21, a political opposition group threatened to lynch Joseph Gadahn, editor of the bimonthly newspaper Economie et Developpement, for remarks he made on a Radio Kanal FM talk show discussing opposition political claims. The group accused him of taking positions against opposition demands for constitutional reforms. Five local NGOs, including the Togolese Media Observatory, condemned the threats against the journalist.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On May 4, the government began enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Public Information and Documentation Act, passed in March 2016 by the National Assembly. The law provides for media and private citizens to obtain government information but excludes the disclosure of “public information and documents that pertain to security, national defense, and court decisions.”
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet but did not censor online content; there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In August and September, the government shut down the internet and restricted telephone-messaging services on several occasions.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permission from the Ministry of Territorial Affairs, which may prescribe the route marchers may take. On October 10, the government banned demonstrations during the workweek. On October 31, the ban was ended, and the government announced that plainclothes security officers would no longer be deployed to demonstrations and that civil society groups could freely observe them.
Police practices in dealing with demonstrators during the August-October antigovernment demonstrations included the use of excessive and indiscriminate force. For example, police shot and killed some protesters and injured many more when demonstrations turned violent. Security forces and government-sponsored vigilantes attacked protesters trying to assemble for demonstrations and beat civilians in their houses in pro-opposition neighborhoods in the capital and other cities.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
While the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Traffic police routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic law charges in order to obtain bribes.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. The government assisted in the repatriation of 26 refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that ability.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2015 President Faure Gnassingbe was re-elected to a third five-year term with 59 percent of the vote. International and national observers monitoring the election declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings. Security forces did not interfere with voting or other aspects of the electoral process; they played no role and remained in their barracks on election day.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The UNIR party dominated politics and maintained firm control over all levels of government. UNIR membership conferred advantages such as better access to government jobs.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural and traditional practices prevented women from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, only 18 percent of parliamentarians were women (16 of 91). Members of southern ethnic groups remained underrepresented in both government and the military.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The body officially responsible for combating corruption, the National Commission for the Fight against Corruption and Economic Sabotage, lacked a specific anticorruption legal mandate and was inactive. Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions, but because their resources were limited, they reported few results. Authorities established toll-free and text-messaging lines for citizens to report cases of corruption.
In January the government appointed board members to the High Authority for the Prevention of and Fight against Corruption–a seven-person independent body to, among other things, hear complaints of corruption and refer them to legal authorities, work with the judiciary on strengthening countercorruption practices, educate the public, and oversee adherence of public officials to anticorruption statutes. The High Authority had yet to conduct any investigations by year’s end.
Corruption: Government corruption was most severe among prison officials, police officers, and members of the judiciary. For example, there were credible reports that judges accepted bribes to expedite and render favorable decisions in land dispute cases.
Financial Disclosure: Only the Togo Revenue Authority requires its officers to disclose their income and assets. No provisions in the constitution, law, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.